December 22, 2006

Christmas "pearls" from my Christian friends

Santa and Unicorn (cloth painting, tied to a balcony)
in Wadi Nisnas, Haifa, Israel

Jean's message
Tamar . . . May we all bring peace to our hearts and to our worlds. This year we [the Bridgeview School in Cape Cod, Massachusetts] gave each member of the staff a “peace” bracelet with the word imprinted on it in seven different languages. And as always, to remember that it starts within.

Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! All celebrations of life and vigor and weakness and being given what we need. Love to you, and thank you for the love you send.
Jean [Christmas 2005]

Stephanie's message
Approaching Christmas 2006, in her engaging blog post, Finding Baby Jesus, Stephanie invited readers to “. . . make it a priority to seek out the baby Jesus.”

Stephanie piqued my curiosity, prompting me to ask —

Please share some of the process of that seeking out, and how you have come to understand baby Jesus. I imagine that elements of your response might offer to someone who is Jewish, me, the wisdom of your tradition.

Stephanie's reply —

Tamar - One of the things I like most about you is your sincere desire to dig deep and understand the values and thoughts of others. This will be a fascinating voice conversation, but for now . . .

Christmas and Easter are the two holiest days of the year for a Christian. Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ, God's only son and our savior. In the Bible, Matthew 1:23, it says "The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son and they shall call him Emmanuel," a name which means "God is with us." This miraculous birth is the true reason for celebrating Christmas.

But, the meaning of Christmas has been expanded, twisted and turned to a point where many Christians, myself included, have often lost sight of what's important. Sure it's a joyous annual tradition to decorate a Christmas tree, attend holiday gatherings, purchase gifts for loved ones, write letters to Santa, drink eggnog, spray fake snow (OK, I won't go there) . . . and I truly LOVE this stuff. But without the birth of Christ and our ongoing pursuit to nurture our relationship with Him through prayer and actions, the annual traditions are meaningless.

What do I do to seek Him out? It's an ongoing journey for me, not just this time of year, but each day. I often get too caught up the day-to-day of life, but I have identified a few simple activities to help me keep Jesus in sight on my path.
  1. I made the decision to attend church regularly so I don’t have to decide if I want to go each Sunday morning. I go even if I don’t feel like going and I always leave with a good feeling.
  2. I put a bible beside my bed. Just seeing it there each day when I wake up and go to bed reminds me about what’s most important… my relationship with Jesus and the significance of my physical presence in this world to serve Him. When I pick it up, I flip around, land randomly and typically end up reading more than I intended.
  3. I read a great children's Bible, “The Rhyme Bible Storybook” by Linda Sattgast, to my children before bed. Simple stories. Great characters. Loads of action . . . from surviving a great flood to defeating a giant to walking on water. It's fun to read rhymes and it's a handy cheat sheet for understanding the big people's version.
  4. I pray everyday. I used to think my nanny was kooky for saying "Thank you, Jesus" at random points throughout the day. Now I do it, though not out loud. It’s comforting to know Jesus is with me throughout the day, so I try to keep him entertained and appreciated.
P.S. More often than not, He seeks me out when I’m doing something other than the activities listed above. I’m thankful for that.

Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
All celebrations of life and vigor and weakness.
Jean Rice (1946-2006)

Christmas Day service at Immanuel Church in Jaffa, Israel

December 19, 2006

Ohad is Bar Mitzvah!

This is it —
The big day
has come...

Tons and tons of
Mazal tov!!

We love you...
The Zamzamiot ———>
Eliana, Orit, Mevasseret, Inbal,
Adi, Racheli, Neta, Chanah-Gila

With this giant poster, cards, and multicolored ribbons and balloons, the Zamzamiot (B’not Sherut Leumi [National Service Girls] volunteers at Zichron Menachem) decorated Ohad's bedroom as a surprise two days before he was a Bar Mitzva.

Ohad and the Zamzamiot have become great friends since meeting at the internationally recognized prize-winning organization that has been supporting kids with cancer and their families in Israel since 1990.

For many months, Ohad had been preparing for his Bar Mitzva – studying the Torah portion and Haftara he would chant, and learning the texts' meanings and messages in the life of the Jewish people and in his own life. And, as noted in my previous blog entry, Ohad had also been learning about the leukemia he has been fighting and its meanings and messages in his life.

“Life experiences shape us,” Ohad opined to me recently. “When I meet children as young as age four in the hospital, I have great compassion for them because they don't understand why they must get treatments and take medicines they don't like. OK, I am young, too, though I understand, and it helps.”

Last Shabbat,
on a crisp sunny morning in Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, Pa'atei Mizrach synagogue was bursting with Ohad's adoring parents, siblings, grandparents, other family, friends, teachers, and neighbors. When the Torah was removed from the Ark, and brought to the podium, in a sweet, strong voice Ohad recited the blessings and chanted, section by section, the portions.

First, from the Torah —

א וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב, בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו--בְּאֶרֶץ, כְּנָעַן. ב אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, נְשֵׁי אָבִיו; וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם. ג וְיִשְׂרָאֵל, אָהַב אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִכָּל-בָּנָיו--כִּי-בֶן-זְקֻנִים הוּא, לוֹ; וְעָשָׂה לוֹ, כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים. ד וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו, כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו--וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ, דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם. ה וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם, וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶחָיו; וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד, שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ. ו וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲלֵיהֶם: שִׁמְעוּ-נָא, הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתִּי. ... — בראשית פרק לז

Meanwhile, Jacob settled in the area where his father had lived in the land of Canaan.
These are the chronicles of Jacob:
Joseph was 17 years old. As a lad, he would tend the sheep with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. Joseph brought his father a bad report about them.
Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, since he was the child of his old age. He made [Joseph] a long colorful coat.
When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than all the rest, they began to hate him. They could not say a peaceful word to him.
Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.
Listen to the dream I had, he said to them. — Genesis 37-44:17

And then from the Haftara —

רָנִּי וְשִׂמְחִי, בַּת-צִיּוֹן--כִּי הִנְנִי-בָא וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. ... וַיַּעַן וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי, לֵאמֹר, זֶה דְּבַר-יְהוָה, אֶל-זְרֻבָּבֶל לֵאמֹר: לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת. — זכריה פרק ב

Shout for joy, Fair Zion! For lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. ... This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, said the LORD of hosts. — Zechariah 2:14-4:7

We fool ourselves into thinking we know the future when we don't; into thinking that what appears true today will appear true tomorrow. Life holds much mystery. Meanwhile, we celebrate and we love.

December 08, 2006

With my first havruta, still learning after all these years

From Shimon, a handmade card and an aloe-vera-olive-oil-infused gift set
Today, I rode Bus 70 from Tel Aviv to Givat Shmuel where my friend Shimon crams eating and sleeping into his life; he is a doctoral student in psychology at Bar Ilan University. "I am fulfilling all the requirements of my department while adding my own curriculum in my major and beyond," explains my havruta, learning partner since 1999 when we met in the Atlanta Torah MiTzion program.

Visiting with Shimon is a gift of precious time with inestimable value. Though we are separated in age by decades, have widely different life experiences, and usually hold opposing religious beliefs and practices, our friendship celebrates the differences. We laugh much while trading ideas and references, from book titles to podcast subscriptions, and from updates on mutual friends and the upsides and downsides of living in two nations, Israel and the USA.

"Read Saʻarat nefesh [Burning Soul] by Yoram Yovel, one of my professors," Shimon replies to a question on mental illness and therapies in Israel. "Download a podcast of Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg from the Speaking of Faith and Values" podcast channel, I instruct him as our free-wheeling discussion veers toward narratives, storytelling, and blogs. Before I catch the last bus to Tel Aviv (today is Friday, and Shabbat begins at sunset), we cram in a session on his laptop where I subscribe him to this podcast channel for a free downloadable weekly radio program featuring conversations with theologians, scientists, ethicists, and other thoughtful voices on religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.

Imagine my astonished delight while snacking on Shimon's treat — a chocolate-chip sweet, herbal tea (for him), and cappuccino (for me) in the lobby cafe of a residential skyscraper, when he drew from his briefcase two surprises — a handmade card and an aloe-vera-olive-oil-infused gift set! The card, a photo taken four years ago when we toured Nobel Prize winner Shmuel Yosef Agnon's Jerusalem home, shows Shimon and me gazing at the glass-encased 1966 Prize in Literature gold medal and diploma. The back of the photo reads, as follows:

בס"ד [Aramaic abbreviation for "with Heaven's help"]

It has been almost 7 years since I first met you. Oh, and
it's also your birthday...
I guess we both deserve congratulations...
Happy birthday!

Thank you, dear Shimon: havruta, guide, humorist, role model, friend, teacher, comforter. May you continue going from strength to strength.

Related post

Wrestling with texts and observing shoes

December 02, 2006

Happy birthday to me!

A hand-painted card — tucked into an envelope and addressed in English and in Hebrew – arrived in my Tel Aviv mailbox minutes before my birthday. "May this year bring only joy and radiant being," penned Susanne, classy woman, talented painter, and two-time Tel Aviv roommate extraordinaire!

Thank you, Susanne, for your gifts, and thank you, everyone who has helped make this past year joyous and radiant for me. Together, you have been providing the yeast to help me raise, sustain, and spread joy and radiance in both democracies where I am privileged to vote!

And in both democracies, and elsewhere on the planet, where insanity reigns relentlessly as governments and citizens often brutalize the least among us, my birthday wish is for all beings peace and justice.

Peace, because I believe, as my hero Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." Justice, because, as my hero cautioned, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

November 06, 2006

When a child starts to go bald כשילד מתחיל להקריח

My heros: Ohad, Daniel, and Avia
גיבורי: אוהד, דניאל, אביה

התרגום לעברית מופיע מייד אחרי הקטע באנגלית. המון תודות לשלמה פרוינד ומרים נוימאיר על התרגום. שלמה ומרים הם עוד שניים מהגיבורים שלי

A corridor to paradise. Last week, I took the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to meet my cousin's youngest son, Ohad, at one of the corridors to paradise: Zichron Menachem. Here, this almost Bar-Mitzvah-age guitar-playing Internet power user, avid reader, and karate student finds comfort, relief, and distraction from the diagnostic and therapeutic treatments he gets at Hadassah Medical Center. For Zichron Menachem is an internationally recognized prize-winning organization that has been supporting kids with cancer and their families in Israel since 1990. Support is free of charge to this special population, without discrimination to religion, ethnic origin, or socioeconomic status.

"I will become bald from my treatments," Ohad announced. "And I don't plan on wearing a wig. I want to show people that I am fighting my disease." "Do you plan on wearing a cap?" I wondered, noting the grayish skies and dropping temperatures in the nation's capital city. "Yes, and only when it gets cold," his quick reply.

In this state-of-the-art outpatient facility, the hours passed quickly for Ohad and his personal cheerleading team that afternoon:
  • His dad
  • Brothers Daniel and Avia
  • His mother's cousin (that would be me)
  • A twenty-something trilingual yeshiva student/volunteer who played a mean game of billiards with Avia
  • The 13-year-old brother of another patient
  • A passel of B’not Sherut Leumi (National Service Girls). These part angel-part human participants in a government-mandated alternative to military service spread nonstop cheer, laughter, and snacks; read stories out loud; engage in play and conversation; help with homework assignments; and cuddle, carry, and soothe anxious, weary, or physically uncomfortable guests.
Avia, a paratrooper whose army service to date has included participating in the 2005 Disengagement Plan and the 2006 Second Lebanon War, is facing, perhaps, one of the greatest challenges of his life: When the medical staff made Ohad's diagnosis, Avia asked the army for one month's leave to be present for his youngest brother 24/7. True to his signature modest-yet-effective style, Avia is Ohad's soft-spoken support, aide, companion, driver, and advocate, and a right arm of their parents, whose jobs keep them from round-the-clock coverage of Ohad, and whose siblings are either fulltime students or workers.

Blessings and prayers. A precious child has been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). He has a large, loving family and a dedicated medical team providing top-flight, affordable national health care. Add the huge amounts of caring and affection he exchanges with classmates, teachers, Bnei Akiva youth and leaders, and others, and the support of organizations such as Zichron Menachem, and Ohad's quality of life spells excellent. May every child and adult fighting disease worldwide be granted these blessings.

The whole world is a very narrow bridge;
the main thing is not to be afraid.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

NOTE: Since I published this post, Ohad became a bar mitzvah and the Zichron Menachem Zamzamiot (B’not Sherut Leumi volunteers) surprised him by decorating his bedroom two days before!

° ° °
גן עדן עלי אדמות. בשבוע שעבר,נסעתי באוטובוס מתל- אביב לירושלים לפגוש את אוהד, בנה הצעיר של בת דודתי, במקום שהוא גן עדן עלי אדמות: זיכרון מנחם. כאן, הילד הזה שעוד מעט יהיה בר מצווה, מנגן בגיטרה, אשף אינטרנט, קורא נלהב וגם מתאמן בקראטה מוצא נחמה, הקלה והסח הדעת מהאיבחונים והטיפולים שהוא מקבל במרכז הרפואי הדסה. כי זיכרון מנחם הוא ארגון מוכר ברמה בינלאומית, בעל פרסים רבים אשר תומך בילדים הסובלים ממחלת הסרטן ומשפחותיהם בישראל מאז 1990. התמיכה היא ללא תשלום לאוכלוסיה מיוחדת זו, ללא אפליה על רקע דתי, אתני או מצב סוציואקונומי.

אקריח מהטיפולים שלי," הודיע אוהד. "ואני לא מתכוון לשים פאה. אני רוצה להראות לאנשים שאני נלחם במחלה שלי." "האם אתה מתכונן ללבוש כובע?" תהיתי, לנוכח השמיים המאפירים והטמפרטורות הצונחות בעיר בירת ישראל. "כן, אבל רק כאשר יהיה קר," הייתה תשובתו המידית.

כאן, במרפאת החוץ העדכנית הזאת עברו השעות במהירות לאוהד ולקבוצת המעודדים האישית שלו באותו אחר הצהרים:

...אחיו דניאל ואביה
...בת דודה של אמו: זאת אני
...בן ישיבה/מתנדב בן עשרים ומשהו הדובר שלוש שפות ששיחק
משחק סנוקר מרשים עם אביה
...אחיו בן ה-13 של חולה אחר
...קבוצת בנות שירות לאומי. בחורות אלו מלאכיות-בנות-אדם מפיצות אינסופית שמחה,
צחוק וחטיפים; מקריאות סיפורים; משחקות
ומשוחחות; מסייעות בשיעורי בית; מחבקות, נושאות ומרגיעות אורחים בחרדה, תשושים או אלה שמרגישים אינוחות גופנית.

אביה, צנחן ששירותו הצבאי עד עכשיו כלל השתתפות בתוכנית ההתנתקות ומלחמת לבנון השנייה, מתמודד, כנראה, עם אחד האתגרים הגדולים ביותר בחייו: כאשר הצוות הרפואי אבחן את מחלתו של אוהד, ביקש אביה חופשה לחודש ימים כדי להיות זמין עשרים וארבע שעות ביממה בשביל אחיו הצעיר ביותר. נאמן לסגנונו האופיני הצנוע אך יעיל, אביה ברוך לשונו הוא התומך, העוזר, החבר, הנהג והסניגור, ויד ימנית להוריו שעבודתם מונעת מהם לשהות סביב השעון ליד אוהד כשאחיו או לומדים או עובדים במשרות מלאות.

.acute lymphocytic leukemia ילד יקר אובחן כסובל מ-
יש לו משפחה גדולה, אוהבת וצוות רפואי מסור הנותן טיפול ברמה הגבוהה ביותר שביטוח בריאות יכול להעניק. תוסיפו את הכמויות העצומות של תשומת לב והחיבה שהוא מקבל ומקרין חזרה לחבריו לכתה, מורים, חברים ומדריכים מתנועת בני עקיבא ואחרים, ותמיכתם של ארגונים כמו זיכרון מנחם, אז איכות החיים של אוהד נהדרת. מי יתן וכל ילד ומבוגר הנלחמים במחלות ברחבי העולם יזכו לברכות אלו.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד;
והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.
רבי נחמן מברסלב —

October 17, 2006

Caught in the Thicket נאחז בסבך

Daniel Zohar, דניאל זוהר, 14

NOTE: Meet guest blogger, Daniel Zohar, a ninth grader at Himmelfarb Boys’ High School in Jerusalem. My fascinating and loving second cousin with wide-ranging talents and a knockout smile is passionate about three subjects — music, art, and literature. On my recent visit with his family last Shabbat and Simchat Torah, Daniel and I read and discussed his powerful commentary on the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac. This dramatic story, central to Jewish liturgy and thought, has challenged generations of commentators. Me: "Was the commentary a school assignment or a contest submission?" Daniel: "I was simply moved to write it." Hebrew readers can follow Daniel's graceful style following my English translation.

With Heaven's help
Rosh Hashana eve 5767

There is nothing new under the sun, murmured a bored ram, and yawned. The world burdened him, and he lay down under its enormous weight. The ram was an especially bitter creature, a depressed type, a pessimist. Almost everything he said was harsh; even his motto, which he often repeated, was from Ecclesiastes, his lifelong inspiration.

He lived in a small cave at the edge of a mountain. (He thought it was called Mount Moriah — yet what difference did it make? All names were alike.) The ram was the oldest of his kind in that desolate dry area. No one liked him especially, even the few who knew him. (It isn't pleasant to host friends for whom Ecclesiastes is a "light" of his life.)

Humans hunted rams, which didn't bother him. On the contrary, he even regretted that he hadn't died in a hunting expedition. So, too, he thought, What point does this miserable life have? To rise in the morning, graze in a meadow, rest a bit, and again sleep? Really . . .

That morning was bright, the sun shone, and . . . wait a minute. The sun shines every day; why mention it? Yet something was different. Two small rabbits reached the entrance of our acquaintance's cave. They came to announce that the elderly wise one — the fox — was on his deathbed. Whoever wants to hear his last words must reach a bald spot in the forest, about six miles away, they said. Hurry, it appears to be his last hour.

Oh well, growled the old ram, and lazily started toward the destination (not before preparing a sandwich for the journey). Within an hour, he noticed a gathering from where he heard soft rustling sounds. As he drew near, he saw many creatures drinking thirstily these last words of the fox.

In a strange plant, one will find what one has sought. His journey will be difficult, and if he reaches his destination, he will find in the plant a flower that will reveal the meaning of life (which I didn't merit obtaining) . . . A tear glistened on the dying creature's face, and fell on the soft grass. I just want to say . . .

A series of groans and coughs followed, and then silence. Before the fox finished the last sentence, the most important one, he expired. A courageous little mouse challenged the ram: Tell me, what did you conclude from the old one's speech? The ram: He liked repeating the word, happiness. Later, when the rabbits returned and asked, Did you understand what the fox said? the ram answered, No, I came late.

Ah, they replied. Listen. A flower on an unknown mountain will reveal to the one who finds it the meaning of life. The flower is supposed to rescue him from the depths of endless despair. Apparently the fox wanted to point out a problem about this quest yet didn't manage . . . poor thing.

The ram decided to find the wondrous flower. On his way, he passed an elderly woman who asked, What do you seek? His reply: The magic flower. She: Oy, another unfortunate one. He: Excuse me? She: Nothing. Go to a mountain, Moriah by name, and at its peak you'll find what you seek. As he turned to go, she said, That flower is inside a giant thorny thicket, and whoever cuts through it cannot reach its center without losing his head, hands, and legs . . . He interrupted: I think I understand. What a fool I am, I live next to that mountain!

The ram returned home, rested, and began to climb the mountain. The journey was tiring — steep and hard to pass. Yet he decided to reach higher and, gathering his strength, succeeded to reach the thicket. A little dazed, he saw the flower glowing in its center. While he ran toward the fulfillment of his dreams he became entangled in the thicket, and his horns were caught. He couldn't move part of his body. Does anyone hear me? he called. No reply. Nu, whatever, I'll die of starvation.

And it happened after these things that God tested Abraham. And He said to him, 'Abraham!' and he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Take, pray, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go forth to the land of Moriah and offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall say to you.' And Abraham took the wood for the offering and put it on Isaac his son and he took in his hand the fire and the cleaver, and the two of them went together. And Isaac said to Abraham his father, 'Father!' and he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Here is the fire and the wood but where is the sheep for the offering?' And Abraham said, 'God will see to the sheep for the offering, my son.' And the two of them went together. And they came to the place that God had said to him, and Abraham built there an altar on top of the wood. And Abraham reached out his hand and took the cleaver to slaughter his son. And the Lord's messenger called out to him from the heavens and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' and he said, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Do not reach out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him, for now I know that you fear God and you have not held back you son, your only one, from Me.' And Abraham raised his eyes and saw and, look, a ram was caught in the thicket by its horns, and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place YHWH-Yireh, as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the Lord there is sight.' And the Lord's messenger called out to Abraham once again from the heavens, and He said, 'By My own Self I swear, declares the Lord, that because you have done this thing and have not held back your son, your only one, I will greatly bless you and will greatly multiply your seed . . . ' (Genesis 22:1-17; translation from Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary)

Seconds before the ram breathed his last breath and was slaughtered, he understood that he found the light and the meaning of life. And here are some of the essentials: Joy, love, faith, hope, peace — the flowers in our lives, the light that reveals life's meaning. Blessed am I to have died in the presence of a righteous person in awe of the heavens, Abraham our ancestor, the faithful one. There is something new under the sun, he murmured, and expired.

* * *
בס"ד, ערב ראש השנה ה'תשס"ז

"אין חדש תחת השמש", מלמל בשעמום איל ופיהק. נדמה כאילו העולם מהווה עליו מעמסה והוא רובץ תחת משקלו העצום. אותו טיפוס היה יצור ממורמר ביותר, בעל אופי דכאוני ביותר. הפאסימיות הייתה חלק משגרת חייו. כמעט כל האמרות שלו, השנונות משהו, ואף המוטו שלו שבו השתמש לעיתים קרובות, היו לקוחים מספר קהלת (שהיווה השראה לאורח חייו).

הוא שכן במערה קטנה בירכתי הר אחד (נדמה לו שהר המורייה קוראים לו- אבל מה זה משנה, הרי כל השמות דומים) אותו איל היה הזקן ביותר באותו אזור שומם ויבש. אף אחד לא חיבב אותו במיוחד, אפילו מהמעט שהכירו אותו. לא נעים לארח חברה לאחד שספר קהלת הוא "אור" לחייו וחלק בלתי נפרד ממנו.

בני האדם היו צדים הרבה מהאילים שבסביבה, מה שלא הפריע לו במיוחד. אדרבה, אפילו הצטער שלא מת באיזשהו מסע ציד כזה, גם ככה איזה טעם יש לחייו העלובים? לקום בבוקר, ללחך עשב באחו, לנוח קצת ושוב לישון. נו באמת...

אותו בוקר היה בהיר מאוד, השמש זרחה, ו... רגע. השמש זורחת כל יום, מדוע לציין זאת? אבל באותו יום היה משהו שונה. כבר בשעות הבוקר המוקדמות הגיעו לפתח מערתו של מיודענו הזקן שני ארנבים קטנים, שליחים, ובפיהם טענה שהזקן והחכם בחיות- הוא השועל הבא בימים- שוכב על ערש דווי. כל מי שרוצה לשמוע דברי חכמה אחרונים לפני מותו צריך להגיע לקרחת היער שבמרחק שלושה קילומטרים משם. "יש להזדרז", אמרו הארנבים. "כנראה שזוהי שעתו האחרונה". " נו מילא", נהם הזקן, והחל ללכת בעצלות לכיוון המיועד (לא לפני שהכין לעצמו סנדוויץ', צידה לדרך). כעבור שעה קלה, שם לב להתגודדות במקום מסויים ומשם רחשים קטנים ושקטים. הוא התקרב, וראה סוגים רבים של בעלי חיים, כולם שותים בצמא את דבריו האחרונים של הישיש. האיל הזקן התקרב, וזה מה ששמע:

"בשיח מוזר, שם ימצא את אשר ציפה לו... (מלמול חרישי לא מובן). בר המזל תקשה עליו הדרך... ואם וכאשר יגע למחוז חפצו, שם ימצא את אותו פרח... פרח אשר יגלה לו את משמעות החיים, אשר לא זכיתי להגיע אליו... (על פניו של הגוסס התנוצצה דמעה ונשרה על העשב הרך). אני רק רוצה לומר דבר קטן, אשר...

נשמעה סדרה של גניחות והשתעלויות ואז דממה. השועל לא הספיק לסיים את המשפט האחרון, והחשוב ביותר, וגווע לעיני הקהל שנאסף סביבו. עכבר קטן אזר אומץ ופנה אל האיל: "הגד לי, מה הסקת מנאומו של הזקן"? האיל ענה: "שאהב את המילה אשר, שכן אמרה פעמים רבות". הוא הסתכל עליו בנימה לגלגנית, והעכברון הסמיק והלך משם. שני הארנבים שבאו להודיע על הנאום חזרו אליו. "האם הבנת מה אמר השועל"? "לא", ענה. "הגעתי באיחור". "אה"... ענו לו. "אז ככה: ישנו פרח אחד, בהר לא ידוע, ואותו פרח יגלה למוצאו את משמעות החיים. בכך הוא אמור להציל אותו מהתהום והייאוש האינסופיים. אבל כנראה שהייתה בעייה שרצה לציין, ולא הספיק, המסכן"...

גמלה בליבו ההחלטה, והוא החליט לחפש את אותו פרח מופלא. בדרכו אל הלא- נודע עבר דרך כפר של בני אדם. זקנה אחת, תושבת אותו הכפר, שאלה אותו לרצונו. הוא ענה לה שאת הפרח הקסום הוא מבקש. "אווו"... לחשה. "עוד מסכן אחד"... "סליחה"? שאל. "לא כלום. לך להר אחד, המורייה שמו, ובפסגתו תמצא את מבוקשך". כבר פנה ללכת, כשלפתע: "אבל"... אמרה, "אותו פרח נמצא בתוך שיח קוצני ענק, שאין באפשרותו של החוצה אותו מגיע למרכזו בלי שיאבד בדרך את ראשו, ידיו, רגליו... "אני חושב שהבנתי", הפסיק אותה. בלכתו חשב: 'טיפש שכמותי, הרי אני גר בסמוך לאותו הר'!

כעבור שלוש שעות חזר למעונו.הוא נח מעט והחל להעפיל ולטפס על ההר במטרה להגיע לפסגתו. הדרך הייתה מייגעת, אך לא אינסופית. הסוף לא היה מתון כמו בהתחלה, הוא היה תלול ביותר וקשה למעבר. אבל האיל גמר אומר בליבו להגיע למעלה. הוא עשה מאמץ אחרון ואסף את כל כוחותיו, והצליח. הוא הגיע באפיסת כוחות, מטושטש מעט, וראה את אותו שיח במרכזו זהר הפרח המדהים. הוא רץ בחמת טירוף לכיוון הגשמת כל משאלותיו, אך הסתבך בסבך העצום בגודלו וקרניו נתפשו בו. שוב לא יכול היה להזיז חלק בגופו. "מישהו שומע אותי"? קרא. אין תשובה. "נו מילא, נמות ברעב"...

ויהי אחר הדברים האלה, והאלוקים ניסה את אברהם. ויאמר אליו: אברהם! ויאמר: הנני. ויאמר: קח- נא את בנך את יחידך אשר אהבת, את יצחק, ולך לך אל ארץ המורייה, והעלהו שם לעלה על אחד ההרים אשר אומר אליך. וישכם אברהם בבוקר, ויחבוש את חמורו, ויקח את שני נעריו איתו ואת יצחק בנו. ויבקע עצי עלה, וילך אל המקום אשר אמר- לו האלוקים. ביום השלישי, וישא אברהם את עיניו, וירא את המקום מרחוק. ויאמר אברהם אל נעריו: שבו לכם פה עם החמור, ואני והנער נלכה עד כה ונשתחווה ונשובה אליכם. ויקח אברהם את עצי העלה, וישם על יצחק בנו. ויקח בידו את האש ואת המאכלת וילכו שניהם יחדיו. ויאמר יצחק אל אברהם אביו, ויאמר: הנני בני. ויאמר: הנה האש והעצים ואיה השה לעולה? ויאמר: אלוקים יראה לו השה לעלה בני, וילכו שניהם יחדיו. ויבואו אל המקום אשר אמר- לו האלוקים, ויבן שם אברהם את המזבח, ויערוך את העצים ויעקוד את יצחק בנו, וישם אותו על המזבח ממעל לעצים. וישלח אברהם את ידו, ויקח את המאכלת לשחוט את בנו. ויקרא אליו מלאך ד' מן השמיים, ויאמר: אברהם, אברהם! ויאמר: הנני. ויאמר: אל תשלח ידך אל הנער ואל תעש לו מאומה כי עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלוקים אתה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך ממני. וישא אברהם את עיניו וירא והנה איל אחר נאחז בסבך בקרניו. וילך אברהם ויקח את האיל ויעלהו לעלה תחת בנו. ויקרא שם המקום ההוא ד' יראה אשר יאמר היום בהר ד' יראה. ויקרא מלאך ד' אל אברהם שנית מן השמיים, ויאמר: בי נשבעתי נאום ד' כי יען אשר עשית את הדבר הזה לא חשכת את בנך את יחידך —מתוך בראשית כ"ב ...

רגע לפני שנשחט האיל, ונשם את נשימותיו האחרונות, הבין שמצא את האור וגילה את משמעות החיים. והנה כמה מהיסודות החשובים והחיוניים שהבין רגע לפני מותו: שמחה, אהבה, אמונה, תקווה, שלום. הם הפרח שבחיינו, הם האור עצמו המגלה לנו את משמעות החיים. "אשרי שמתי בידי צדיק וירא שמיים, אברהם אבינו המאמין. יש חדש תחת השמש", מלמל, ונפח את נשמתו.

October 11, 2006

Moadim L'simchah, Happy Holidays, Eid Sa'yd

In these parts — Israel — this season's festivals include Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Ramadan and Idl Fitr.

The charming image on the left is not a painting by Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt! It is Neel, lovely daughter of my friend Aida Shibli-Qleibo. Soon, Aida and her family will relocate from their home in Beit Safafa, near Jerusalem, to Aida's birthplace and family compound in Shibli, in northern Israel. There, Aida will continue her peace work with peoples of all faiths and nations. See you there?

September 17, 2006


Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

Countee Cullen

Note |  The summer of 2006 was vile, with a war that killed my cousin, an incredibly sweet, competent, and inspiring Israeli young man. During the war's month-long horrors, which killed countless other innocents, my thoughts turned repeatedly to Incident, a poem I first read when I taught young children, their families, and other early childhood educators. I found in Incident then — and now, a direct link between baseless hatred that destroys the souls of perpetrators and victims, leading to  their deaths. Would that we look into the eyes of Davis (shown in the photo) and into each other's eyes and see in each "other" a facet of the One. (I met Davis this summer at an interview with John Lewis, Civil Rights leader and my Georgia US Congressman.)

August 26, 2006

Subject: I just heard the news

Tova's e-mail, a blanket of love and support, lacked specifics I desperately needed. What news had she just heard? About which of the boys I have been anxiously praying for since the war broke out? I hastily checked Haaretz [Israeli daily newspaper] online to read the fine print and found the frightening details. My beloved cousin Gila's son Noam Mayerson, age 23, was killed in Lebanon defending against terrorists seeking his and his people's extinction. 

In this e-mail conversation, I got the news we dread, always, especially in war.

I have no words. I think the help will be in the days and months and years to come. If there is any way I can help you help them in the short term - be your shlicha [emissary] in any way - let me know. May this be the last time, the last soldier we lose. — Tova
  • Within hours, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post (among English-language Israeli papers and blogs I follow) posted Noam's photo and a brief bio. Israeli media always announce the names as soon as immediate survivors have been notified. (I shuddered, recalling that some elected officials and others in the USA chastise TV news programs for issuing a daily "roll call" — naming American troops killed in Iraq.) 
  • Minutes before Tova's emails, I had sent to Noam's father, Chaim, the message, "checking news at 3 a.m., again," hoping to lend strength and sending love by writing about Noam — alive and about Aviyah, our cousins Ditza’s and Chanan’s paratrooper son.
  • And now, reading Tova's e-mails I understood that Chaim wasn't at his computer; he and his family were together, in a pool of shock and grief. And in an instant, they had joined the bereaved people who lost a child, a sibling, a fiance, a relative, a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, a teacher.
Noam, in Hebrew, means pleasantness.

Of Torah, often called a path, we learn —

דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם D'racheha darchey noam, Its ways are ways of pleasantness [Noam] וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם vchol netivoteha shalom, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17)

נעם, כשמו כן הוא Noam, kishmo ken hu, Noam, as is his name, so is he.

We all loved Noam. It was impossible not to. A deep thinker with a buoyant personality, Noam spread joy and optimism. Once, I knowingly missed the deadline to pick up a package from the post office because I couldn’t tear myself away from discussing big ideas with him. (The package was returned to the sender, and though it was months before I received it, the gift of continuing the discussion will be with me forever.) How could I tear myself away from this passionate young man who expressed ideas and learning easily, engaged in civil dialogue eagerly, reframed his statements as often as needed, and explained terms and assumptions until I “got it”? Who could resist these encounters, all blessings?

When I visited his parents and turned the key in the front door lock, I rejoiced to spot him studying Torah, playing guitar, packing for a hike and “shopping” in the kitchen pantry, or yakking with buddies in person or on the phone. I always hoped Noam would be home from yeshiva or army service when my cousins invited me to spend Shabbat or a holiday together. I love listening to Chaim gently lead us in prayer or watching Gila hold high the havdala candle or photographing their children (in the photo of building a sukkah, Noam is flanked by his younger brothers, Yoni and Hilly).

עִבְדוּ אֶת ה בְּשִׂמְחָה Ivdu et Hashem b'simchah, serve God in joy. (Psalm 100:2)

Two years ago at Pesach, late into the Seder night of questions, he and his mother fell into a fit of laughter that would not stop. The antics of this jolly twosome brought me back to my childhood when at the most sacred moments of a ritual meal, my sister and I would fall out laughing, spurred by a stimulus, invisible to all but us, that set off our joint funny bone.

Noam was radically present, exquisitely alive, and fully engaged in the lived moment. His life comprised Torah study, reflection, refinement of character traits, deeds of loving kindness, gratitude, and action. All these he pursued with a glad heart, a spirit of happiness and vigor, with the joy of acknowledging God's goodness. The way Noam lived his life lifted us to connect with all creation in a kind of “spiritual oneness” of peace and good fortune for every being. Noam didn’t just follow Torah; he became it.

נעם בן גילה וחיים. יהי זכרו לברכה Noam ben Gila vChaim. Yehi zichro l’vracha. Noam, son of Gila and Chaim. May his memory be a blessing.

My related posts

August 08, 2006

Subject: checking news at 3 a.m. . . . again

Me (in Atlanta):
how are you guys doing? i cannot imagine the stress in your parts where it is a constant part of the conversation or psyche. … longing for better days... asap. – t

Chaim (in Jerusalem):
Everyone here is healthy in the meantime. Noam entered Lebanon last night, and Aviyah entered [Lebanon] last week. Can't use phones there, so we wait to hear. We're managing. Thanks for your solidarity.

As I read my cousin Chaim’s reply, I react in three ways:

I see Noam (shown giving his pal Daniel a buzz cut), Chaim's and Gila's son who “entered Lebanon last night …”. And I ache for his parents, whose sons Hilly and Yehoshua are serving with the IDF now, too.

A mere week ago, Gila wrote: "... It is hard to believe but different parts of Israel [as small as it is] feel differently. People in the north are scared. Relatives of soldiers who are serving in the north and in the south are worried. Others are living their everyday lives and praying, looking for things to do to help, calling people in shelled cities, making room in their homes for refugees , collecting toys, etc. . . . I hope and pray for better days. . . .".

I see Aviyah (shown in a bear hug with his father, Chanan), about whom Chaim reports, “Aviyah entered [Lebanon] last week.” Chaim is anticipating my question on our cousins’ Ditza’s and Chanan’s paratrooper son.

I weep openly
for everyone's children, relatives, parents, loved ones, neighbors, friends, comrades, fellows defending the State of Israel nearly six decades. And, I weep for the human family, as terrorists' extremism and violence invade us all.

I will never know the pain and suffering that a "real Israeli" like them (versus me, Jerusalemite by birth, raised and living in the USA, and only recently a dual citizens with two passports and an Israeli identity card).

While I lack direct experience or comprehension of my personal Israeli neighborhood or in the greater neighborhood of all continents, I do know Noam and Aviyah.

When my Atlanta friends, neighbors, postal carrier, shopkeepers, service people, colleagues, dentists, and others ask whether I will return to Israel late September, as planned, their questions surprise me. Of course, I will. And I will thank Noam and Aviyah — sweet, loving, bright, and life-affirming young men for protecting their families, their communities, their nation, their dreams, and the prayers and actions of peace-seekers everywhere.

August 01, 2006

Israelis: Family and Friends

(excerpt shown)
5th day of Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948)

I am glued to news —

  • via emails
  • on the phone
  • on streaming Israeli radio broadcasts
  • in blogs
  • from traditional media. (I even turned on the television yesterday;-) When my friend Sherry called, hearing from her receiver a cacophony of voices (NPR on the radio and galey tzahal [IDF radio] streaming in on the computer), she demanded, What's going on? She could not imagine that I had changed my persona to party animal... yet;-)
And I worry about my beloved Israeli family and friends and all innocents there and everywhere, praying that everyone is safe from all harm.

And I worry and wonder about my Arab-Israeli friend Aida and her large family, whose northern village, Shibli, is close to Afula, where Hezbollah aims its rockets, and whose youngest brother, Mahmoud, is serving in the IDF.

And I worry and wonder about my Palestinian partners in interfaith dialog. Young men like Amer and Mohanad, on the cusp of adulthood, career, and life – who have braved incarceration, fines, and punishments to steal across the border to Israel where they have engaged in dialog with fellow peace seekers — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze.

Their courage and steadfastness in the face of tyrants and madmen humble me.

Their emails are personal, anecdotal reports on life and death inside Israel:

… Thanks for your bulletins from that side. I know that at a certain level being away is tougher than being here. Keep strong. … my nephew Yonah ... is a great magician and thought he could entertain kids who have been stuck in bomb shelters for way too long.
— Tova, business strategist,
wife, mother, Torah student

… The only good thing that came out of the poor situation that we're in now is the solidarity. There are 2 families from Ztfat [Safed] in my apartment now. One with a baby -- he's the cutest. I hate wars. I can't understand how people can love them and think of them as useful. Maybe I'm too naïve.
— Shimon, psychology grad student at Bar Ilan University

אבישי היה ביוני במילואים בדיוק במקום שחטפו חיילים.אביתר יצא היום לארגן קייטנות במקלטים בצפון שהשם ישמור עליו.שנשמע רק טוב . בי פנינה
… [son Avishai, paratroops reservist] served in June precisely where the two [Israeli solders] were kidnapped. [High-school-age son] Evyatar left today to organize summer camps in the bomb shelters in the north. May God protect him.
Pnina, third-grade teacher, wife, mother,
grandmother, daughter of Holocaust survivors

... i'm in the middale of my exames trying to do well even thoue the craisenes oround us. say hi to ariel shtoul.
Achia, psychology student at Bar Ilan University

… It was really frightening to be at my father's house in Qiryat Ata and hear the alaram in the middle of a peacefull Sunday morning I drove like crasy to get us out of missiles range.
Sarel, economics and logistics expert, husband, Torah student

… The winds of war are blowing outside but in our little family things are fine B "H [thank God]. Whenever you think everyday life is a bit monotonous things happen in Israel and you forget about your own needs, concerns, etc. Right now we are basically glued to the radio and internet. I hope this nightmare ends soon. Shabbat shalom
Gila, womens’ Jewish studies institute administrator,
wife, mother, grandmother, volunteer
with elderly, shut-ins, and lone soldiers


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July 26, 2006

Give Peas a Chance

Arab Jewish Community Center, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Israel

No, that Peas in the title is NOT a typo. It is intentional. And though I want, even wage peace, real peace is elusive — a beautiful, pleasing image of a possible future condition. Peace is a vision, a dream, an idea. And getting to peace is a process, not a cheap fix; an endless journey, not a quick trip.

So I shout (silently), Give Peas a Chance, a version of the nineteen-sixties call for civil rights, freedom, and justice for all peoples: Give Peace a Chance. For while elusive peace beckons while we strive… or make strife, the small green pellet-like vegetable is at hand. And it is good.

After nearly two weeks into this Middle East war, I am putting into words my silences and sadness, conviction and doubt, and the pain even in thinking and talking about war raging in Israel (one of my two homes) and in Lebanon and Gaza and neighboring areas. I am blessed to be a citizen of two democracies: America and Israel. That's being twice blessed when millions tragically aren't even once blessed... yet.

Thanks to my pal Stephanie for gentle persistent prodding and to other friends for helping to launch this posting. More will follow.

hi tamar...i need your take on what's happening in israel and lebanon...i feel so awful about it must be worried about family and friends...let me hear from you...the world feels like a crazy place right now...
— love, phyl

hi tamar. i am SOOO pissed off! i cannot stand it any longer: the media, colleagues at work etc: the bad israel destroying everything in lebanon as if there was no reason for it. as if israel wanted to hunt the lebanese, extinguish the lebanese. poor lebanese here, poor lebanese there. (i also feel sorry for them, they have to leave their houses, their possessions are ruined - but i put it in a relation and see who is responsible for the situation - hizballah!)

why is it so easy to feel sorry for the lebanese and so hard to feel sorry for the israelis? in other words: why is it so easy to feel sorry for non-Jews and so hard to feel sorry for jews???? maybe that is the right question?

how can i confront these people around me without getting angry? if something crosses your mind, it will be much appreciated!
— love, stefan

Most Israelis and Lebanese would like nothing better than to live (and die) in safety – and over a natural lifespan.
They aim to learn, sing, garden, drink good coffee or tea, work, travel, decorate, sew, swim, pray to the God of their understanding, vacation, ride busses and trains, visit an ATM, buy stamps, test new recipes, borrow library books, walk the dog, water the plants, take out the garbage, exercise, attend conferences, blog.

Yet reality intrudes.
During its millennia-long pre-rebirth gestation, the declaration of statehood in 1948, and following decades, Israel has been engaged in an existential struggle with her neighbors and their partners. Nonstop. Always. The front lines: Middle East. The casualties: worldwide. For those pathologically inclined to hate Israel no matter what, war is what we have. And the human family pays the infinite costs in pain, loss, suffering, and death. Everywhere.

… Sometimes you find yourself in a situation in which peaceful methods will not work. Talking does not work. Trying to work things out does not work. Peace offerings do not work. On the contrary, they are seen as signs of weakness.

Peace loving friends have been expressing their confusion to me, all this week. Surely there is a better way to deal with Hizballah. Surely if we had just sat down with him, surely if, surely if. One sweet soul even went so far as to say that what Nasrallah really needs is a big hug.

It is so hard to believe that some people really and truly are not interested in peace; that they are interested only in winning. And that the only way to deal with them, the only way, is to fight them. Or die.

Israel does not have the luxury I had, to leave and find somewhere else. Israel has to stand and fight, to the death, whatever the price.

Still, no one can kill the vision of peace.
Not even lunatic barbarians who seek to annihilate life, especially “the other.” And, depending on the lunatic, that “other” is you or me and probably both of us.

July 23, 2006

Stefan's Urgent Message on Austria's "sick people"

It is very important to me to spread this aspect of Austria all over the world.

Thus, my beloved friend Stefan concluded his email to me yesterday. The complete email follows. But first, a bit about this gentle peace-seeking Austrian

From 2002 through 2003, Stefan served in an Austrian military service alternative program. At Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, in Jerusalem, he archived documents — drawing on his multilingual and research skills. We met that year and quickly became fast friends. Stefan, who is not Jewish and does not identify with any religion, is a political scientist and researcher in his native city, Vienna. 

I had a most terrible experience today. I went to an orthopedist … I expect help, I entrust my body and health to another person's hands. I want to get checked to feel better, sane. I expect a doctor to aid my recovery.

I came in, sat down. He asked me what my profession was, and I told him that I work at the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism. His unbelievable question was, "Who are the victims of national socialism?" (with a kind of smirk, sneer on his face.) I was so perplexed. Stunned. I answered, "Well those who were persecuted by the Nazis." He: "Aha. Not only the Jews." I told him that ANY victim of the Nazis is entitled to file an application at our Fund (to make clear that not only the "greedy Jews" that he obviously phantazises about).

He said that in his opinion also his father was a victim of National Socialism because he lost a leg as a soldier in the War. I told him that I see that differently, which he did not accept, of course. He started to talk about his views on history, that "Hitler just made a naive assessment of the situation." The doctor added, "With money of the Jews -- because THEY have the money -- Hitler wanted to rebuild the German state." The doctor went on, "This worked out pretty well at the beginning." The rest of the shit coming out of his mouth I cannot remember. But there was more.

I was petrified. Stunned. Scared. Unable to move, to run out, to leave. I came to see him because I expected help against the pain I have. But he gave me even more pain! I am upset with myself for not calling him what he deserves and rushing out. I even allowed this pig to treat me. When I was out of the surgery on the way to work I started crying.

It was hard to calm down the whole day. Friends around me cheer me up. But still, I cannot get rid of the feeling that this place is very hard for me to live because of these sick people.

It is very important to me to spread this aspect of Austria all over the world.

Shabbat shalom

July 14, 2006

Because I could not stop for Death...

He kindly stopped for me...

My pal Sherry (in the photo, seated next to me) and her family buried her middle sister, Dyane, today. Death came unexpectedly last week to the fifty-year-old baby-faced vital mother of three. Twenty-year-old Jennifer woke up to find her mother cold and still, just past dawn, a day after undergoing elective surgery. Sherry's reality is changed forever as it is for Jennifer, her elder sister and younger brother, grandparents, father, host of aunts and uncle, cousins, and greater family and community.

In mind- and body-numbing grief, Sherry and her family cleaved to one another, and from their broken hearts and anguished souls, they rallied courageously in unity and with dignity.
  • They groped to make sense of the insanity-producing news ... Dyane died, Sherry stammered to me an hour after she got "the call" we all dread.
  • They hugged and held Hattie Pearl, her mother, and the children who had lost theirs.
  • And they project-managed the business and housekeeping that death demands in the earliest hours of its wake.
So today, on a sunny cloudless July Thursday in Atlanta, Dyane's family and community celebrated her life, from its Sunrise (November 30, 1955) to Sunset (July 7, 2006). His Eye is on the Sparrow, and a medley of songs, prayers, personal remarks, and a eulogy hovered over the sea of mourners and loving supporters in Murray Brothers Cascade Chapel. She kept it real, never phony. She was my momma, the one and only, 13-year-old son Khadali penned in the program notes the ushers had offered.

An hour later, the half-mile-long cortege followed the white hearse, snaking along Cascade Avenue, a ten-minute drive to Greenwood Cemetery. Verdant lawns and giant-tree-filled yards of well-appointed homes flanked the route through this venerable African-American neighborhood. Not one car driving in the opposite direction on the heavily trafficked artery budged. Those drivers pulled to their right, pausing in the early afternoon crush to honor unnamed mourners accompanying their loved one on her last earthly journey. And for these precious moments, compassion ruled the road in a voluntary halt to the mad dash helter-skelter mania to push, to pull, to do, to redo, to undo.

And suddenly this local custom brought to me the sweetness of the Sabbath. On this day, in my Jewish tradition, we are instructed not to effect change in the world. Six days we do, and on the Sabbath, emulating the Creator who rested from the six days' work of creation, we pause, shifting to "be" mode. On the Sabbath and along that "opposite" lane of the funeral procession, we might, perhaps, grasp the "bigger picture," the eternal.

Inside Greenwood Cemetery, as we passed rolling hills of family- and community-designated areas, wending our way to where we would witness Dyane's interment, I noted the Memorial to the Six Million in the Jewish section. And my memory transported me to ceremonies I had attended on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Greenwood, elsewhere in the United States, and in Israel. In a bittersweet silent prayer, I gave thanks that here, among other safe harbors, we dwell together with our brothers and sisters of all faiths or none, of every shade of color or none, earthly status or none. Here, extremism and violence, twin invaders of peace and of hope that hammer daily everywhere, are vanquished.

Dearest Sherry, You said, "It's very hard to fathom that we are now four." And I honor the hurt and salute your honesty. May you find comfort in knowing that you, the firstborn, loved Dyane relentlessly even as you are sheltering her freshly orphaned children in the wings of your gentle steadfast caring.

July 13, 2006

The Open Door Community July 4 picnic

In Atlanta's Open Door Community great room
used for dining, meeting, worship, and study

In the United States, we celebrate our birthday as a sovereign state on the anniversary of when our first Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence — July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

On this federal holiday, nationwide we celebrate our nation’s birth with speeches, prayers, music, picnics, fireworks, and parades. Here, in Atlanta, the annual 10-kilometer Peachtree Road Race is held (since 1970).

Another local tradition takes place in the shady backyard of the Open Door Community, where this year more than 500 hungry guests from Atlanta's streets enjoyed a delicious picnic of traditional fare. Celebrating its 25-year anniversary, the Open Door is an oasis of hope and loving kindness, in the trendy Poncey-Highlands neighborhood.

Community residents (some have a PhD; others, dropped out of grade-school) and volunteers managed a complex logistical operation graciously. When the caller announced the numbers on guests' tickets, men and women, in orderly fashion, found places at tables for six covered with cherry-red-and-white-checked tablecloths.

The guests: a slice of the American pie
Men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Most spoke English, some spoke Spanish, and many more remained silent. Numerous veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf, and Iraq Wars. Multitudes born into poverty. Others, once privileged, down on their luck. Mostly everyone appeared weary, worried, hot, and thirsty.

Some guests were bandaged from recent falls; others got around in wheelchairs or used canes. One woman announced that she had given birth a week ago ("No, four weeks ago," her companion corrected her), and she anticipated my question: "Mama is caring for the baby." Many guests, before eating the bountiful meal, bowed their heads in hushed prayer, giving thanks to the Creator for blessings of food and more.

Skin tones of the human family, from white rice to dark chocolate. Fellowship. Smiles. Jokes. Laughter. Silence. Gratitude. Sorrow. Confusion. Cheer.

The menu
Tasty grilled hamburgers, baked beans (mixed with molasses, brown sugar, mustard, ketchup, and garlic), slaw, potato chips, an array of relishes, watermelon, and iced tea and water.

Serving on the second shift
My friend Gary joined me on the second shift volunteer team. From noon to 3 pm, we refreshed and reset emptied places and wiped vacated seats, brought refills of food and drink, and, whenever possible, chatted with the guests.

Open Door volunteers wear nametags so it's always easy for folks to start a conversation with me. They read my name, and ask me to explain it [Hebrew: date palm or date, the fruit]. I love plugging my Biblical namesake, and I invite them to read the source text. "Genesis 38," I tell them. "Check it out." While some guests know the story (II Samuel:13 chronicles a different Tamar), a few cite the source — book, chapter, and verses. Sometimes we engage in discussion, even disagreement, on the messages of the text. I always learn from these exchanges.

George spotted me, and asked me to check his pronunciation: "sha-alu shlom yerushalayim," he mouthed slowly. (Thursdays, my calendar says, "Open Door," and months ago, George had asked me how to say, in Hebrew, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.") He probed, "Does sha-alu" have a double 'ah' sound?" It does. It had been a while since I weighed these words of Psalm 122.

Chatting it up
A woman named Phonesia shared that, "Four weeks ago I had been serving a prison sentence ... eight years." I caught my breath and stammered, hopefully, "Today, you are clean as a newborn baby." Phonesia, worried that our conversation had taken a downward spiral, added that she would love to be of service at the Open Door. "Hang on," I urged, and then I spotted Tony, my go-to man in a purple-colored shirt declaring “No War.” I directed Phonesia to him, bid her Happy Fourth, and a hearty welcome.

Roosevelt, on hearing that mine is a Hebrew name and surmising correctly that I am Jewish, said, "We share a common history." Thinking that this African-American man had slavery on his mind, he explained, rather, that "In Germany, your people wore the yellow star and mine wore the pink triangle." Memory. Horror. To his "May I hug you?" my expression read, "Bring it on." The struggle. In solidarity. Never again.

Reggie and I beamed to see one another after a long absence from the Open Door. He had found a job, and lost it recently. "On to Plan B," he optimistically declared (following his grandfather's philosophy). "Plan B," I repeated, "Have you read Anne Lamott's book by that name? He reached into his backpack for a small spiral notebook and a pen. "I'll write it down, and when the library reopens after the holiday, I'll look for it," he promised himself. (Anne Lamott — you would be tickled that people are discussing your writing here.)

Thank you's
As the last guests picked up their bundles and left, volunteers cleaned up and restored the space to a backyard under large shade trees. Gary and I unloaded his car and brought into the sorting room the donations that my neighbors Hope and David harvested from their closets and shelves. Good, clean, fashionable clothing and shoes for all occasions and seasons, toiletries, and luggage.

It had been, for me, a fine July 4 celebration. Thank you George, Phonesia, Roosevelt, Reggie, and all guests. Thank you, Open Door. Thank you, framers of the Declaration of Independence. And thank you, champions of independence everywhere.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Preamble to the Declaration of Independence (excerpt)